Savoring is a specific practice I’m cultivating in my Lenten journey to stay awake and present. Very often, our days become routine – we do the same things repeatedly and even think the same way. This makes time appear to pass very quickly. Savoring is a way to break out of the dullness of too much routine and stay awake to the blessings in our lives.
The practice of savoring is deliberately feeling, enjoying, and extending our positive experiences. You’d think that we’d naturally feel joy when we have a good experience, but research shows that we don’t always get the maximum benefit from these moments. Therefore, we need an active, intentional practice like savoring to fully appreciate what is happening in our lives, especially during the “normal” days.
When we practice savoring, we pay attention to what is happening in our environment. We deliberately notice what is going on and our emotional response to it. Then we intentionally attempt to feel the entirety of our experience, paying attention to our senses and what we’re feeling. One of the definitions of savor is “to delight in,” as in ‘savoring the moment.” Delighting means we take the time to notice what is happening; we slow down to experience and enjoy.
Although savoring is often presented as a technique in the field of positive psychology for developing more happiness, I consider it an essential spiritual practice. Savoring is noticing our blessings and being entirely grateful for all God has given us.
Henri Nouwen expresses this sentiment in the book Lent and Easter Wisdom. He says, “My second suggestion for claiming your blessedness is the cultivation of presence. By presence, I mean attentiveness to the blessings that come to you day after day, year after year. The problem of modern living is that we are too busy…to notice that we are being blessed…It is not easy for us, busy people, to receive a blessing…to stop, listen, pay attention and receive gracefully what is offered to us.” His words, “stop, listen, pay attention and receive gracefully what is offered to us” seems like an excellent spiritually-based definition of savoring!
The gospel reading for the second Sunday of Lent (Mt 17:1-9) describes what can happen if we’re not staying awake to our experience and savoring it. These verses describe the Transfiguration of Jesus. In this event, Jesus and three apostles (Peter, James, and John) go to a mountain to pray. At the top, Jesus is transfigured and shines with rays of light. Moses and Elijah (from the Old Testament) appear and speak with him. Peter is uncomfortable and doesn’t know what to do, so he suggests building tents for Jesus, Moses, and Elijah. But God intervenes and speaks to the gathering, letting Peter know he doesn’t have to do anything – just listen to Jesus (i.e., savor the moment rather than leaping into action trying to memorialize or honor it).
It seems to be a fundamental human tendency that we’re more comfortable with doing something rather than just savoring a moment. Even our well-intentioned efforts to preserve a moment (so we can savor it later or share it on social media) sometimes have the opposite effect. There have been times I’ve gazed at a sunrise in wonder and delight but then been so preoccupied with getting the perfect photo that I miss fully soaking in the experience as it unfolds. I have the picture to remind me of the moment, but looking at it is bittersweet since it also reminds me that I didn’t think fully participating in the moment would be enough (just like Peter at the Transfiguration).
This year I’ve been experimenting with savoring experiences that I usually endure rather than enjoy. I am decidedly not a winter person. So I’ve been trying to savor the unique experiences of winter rather than just constantly wishing for an early spring. (It helps that we’ve had an exceedingly mild winter this year!). I pay attention to the snow and how different it can feel and sound during and after each snowstorm. I give the dog some extra time on our walk and laugh at how happy she seems when she flops in the snow and makes canine snow angels (she seems to have already mastered savoring). I notice the phase of the moon when I’m out on our evening walk and even loaded an app on my phone, so I can figure out which stars and planets I’m seeing. I enjoy the feeling of soft, cozy sweaters and watching how the fire in our wood stove changes so much from moment to moment. This all makes me feel closer to the world God created and the good things I often take for granted. And I’ve found wonder in my least favorite season.
Suggestions for Further Reflection
Over the next week, I invite you to try savoring. Here are some suggestions and thoughts to consider.
- The Vernal (spring) equinox is Monday, Mar 20, at 5:23 pm. In the northern hemisphere, it’s almost spring! What can you do to savor the experience of spring’s arrival this year?
- Be more aware of what you habitually do instead of being able just to savor a moment as it unfolds. Do you capture it in a photo as I do? Or has your mind already moved on to the next thing you need to do? Although it may feel uncomfortable not doing what you usually do, can you practice just savoring a moment today?
- If you’re with someone else, you can invite them to join the savoring process. One practice that aids savoring is to talk about what is happening! Have a conversation about how delicious that meal tastes (being very specific about exactly what you’re tasting), point out a particular shade of purple-red in that sunset and how miraculous it is that those wispy clouds are in just the right position to reflect that color, or let the other person know that their presence is adding to your enjoyment of the experience. Doing this will help you remember the moment better and potentially allow your companion to also experience the pleasure of savoring the moment.
- Take a walk with the intention of noticing something new. Find something that delights you. Notice something fleeting you would have missed seeing if you had not been here today and paying attention.
- If you go to church every Sunday, look for something you haven’t noticed before. It might be something about the church building itself, a part of the liturgy that you’ve heard so many times you barely even notice anymore, or the words of a response you say by rote without considering what it means.
God, You made the world with so many delights and such amazing diversity. It saddens me to think how much of this I take for granted and barely see each day, even though there are wonders everywhere I go.
Help me slow down and notice both the beauty and the discord, the music and the cacophony, the softness and the scratchiness, the sweet and the sour. Help me savor the moments because there’s no guarantee that I’ll be able to experience them again.
Bauer, Judith A. ed. Lent and Easter Wisdom from Henri Nouwen. Liguori, MN: Liguori Publications, 2005.
An overview of savoring and ten practices to develop the skill of savoring can be found here.
Perfect post for the day. I’m sure you wrote this just for me, right? Pete calls savoring “The Fireworks Theory” — you have to enjoy it at the moment bc the moment is gone quickly, like fireworks. I loved your example of taking pictures to capture something which actually prevents us from experiencing that something. I remind myself daily (and you eloquently reinforced it) “don’t postpone joy.” And I also tell myself to appreciate things while they happen rather than worry about when they will end. With age comes wisdom, I suppose. Thanks for sharing so much wisdom at such a young age, Tacky.
I love Pete’s name for this – “The Fireworks Theory” is fabulous; I just may steal it to use at some later point. And thanks for calling me “young” 🙂
I’m giving myself and savoring Grace! Thanks Cathy. Deb Hunt
I hope all is well with you! Thanks for reading.
This has more than your usual measure of insight and goodness (and the usual measure is large IMHO!) Thanks for this! As witness to breaking from ‘doing the same things repeatedly’ – I am switching away from watching bits being currently deployed to our Far East data centers and spending a few moments savoring! Thanks to you!
This winter God blessed me with different wonders while walking in the dark (with said same dog!) up the hill from the development and back home. The street lights sometimes illuminated the adjacent barren tree with each branch holding a teardrop shaped diamond of frozen water. Other times the snow was illuminated, sparkling with millions of tiny multi-colored lights. God’s polite way of reminding me how wonderful his creation and how appropriate a grateful response to Him! :>
Those are beautiful moments of winter savoring, when you could have easily been grumbling about dealing with the snow and ice! It sounds like you’ve already been practicing savoring without even knowing what it was called 🙂